3 September 2012
Brenda Boardman's 21 years of research into fuel poverty is celebrated in a special issue of Energy Policy.
The work of an Oxford University academic to establish fuel poverty as a field of study has been celebrated with a special issue of a journal this week.
A special issue of the international journal Energy Policy has been published this week commemorating 21 years of research and policy related to fuel poverty. The issue is a tribute to the work of Oxford University’s Dr Brenda Boardman and hails her as the primary “researcher, strategic thinker and campaigner” on the world of fuel poverty. Dr Boardman’s first book ‘Fuel Poverty’ brought the issue to wider public and attention for the first time 21 years ago and her research is the foundation on which the world’s foremost fuel poverty strategy has been built.
Fuel poverty occurs when a household cannot afford the energy they need to keep warm, have a well lit home and live to an acceptable minimum standard for 10% of their income. As fuel prices rise, more and more households in the UK are falling into fuel poverty, while the government has an obligation to eradicate fuel poverty (where reasonably practicable) by 2016 under the Warm Homes and Energy conservation Act 2000. Over a fifth of all households are in fuel poverty, in the UK in 2012 and the government will be unable to reach the 2016 target with present policies Commenting on Dr Boardman’s achievement, her former doctoral supervisor Professor Gordon MacKerron of SPRU wrote: “It is rare that a major field of enquiry and public policy should be founded by a single individual. And while many others were engaged in the fuel poverty issue in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially in campaigning, there is a single individual who single-handedly effectively created fuel poverty as a distinct analytical and political issue—Brenda Boardman.”
Professor Christine Liddell of Ulster University, editor of this special issue of Energy Policy, said that Dr Boardman’s original purpose in putting fuel poverty on the socio-political map was to “improve the thermal efficiency of British housing, thereby making warmth more affordable and enhancing people's quality of life.”
Professor Liddell added: “Although one or two social scientists had used the term before her, Boardman's (1991) elaboration remains a masterclass on fuel poverty. Without it, the concept might have remained little more than an occasional area of interest amongst a tiny group of demographers and survey statisticians.”
Dr Boardman said: “What I did was take a topic that sounded as if it had to do with fuel prices, and sounded as if it had to do with poverty, and demonstrated that the really important thing was capital investment and the energy efficiency of the housing stock.
“The Victorians built us sewers and underground tube lines. Our ancestors have given us wonderful legacies with their transformations of infrastructure. What infrastructure should we be changing? The housing stock, the building fabric, to ensure that it is fit for another century would be a good choice.”
This special issue of Energy Policy demonstrates that the subject of fuel poverty is being recognized around the world and is already the subject of European legislation. The ripples continue to grow. In the UK, many anticipate a sea change in how fuel poverty will be monitored and managed over the next few years due to an independent government review into fuel poverty and increasing pressures from rising fuel prices and the economic downturn. While Brenda is now officially retired, she will remain committed to seeking solutions to fuel poverty for many years to come, be that through lobbying, mentoring new students or research. The legacy of her two books and this special issue is that we are equipped to move forward with these solutions and it is a legacy that Brenda will continue to champion.
View the special edition online in Energy Policy, Aug 2012:
Fuel Poverty Comes of Age: Commemorating 21 Years of Research and Policy.
Boardman, B. (2010) Fixing Fuel Poverty: Challenges and solutions. Earthscan, 244pp.
Boardman, H. (1991) Fuel poverty: from cold homes to affordable warmth. Belhaven Press, 267pp.